How Antioxidant Skin Care Really Works—and Why You Need It

Rachel Krause


We always take beauty buzzwords with a grain of salt—they often turn out to be little more than another thing that starts with a b. There are some, however, that have worked their way into our vernacular so completely that we don’t even pause to think about what they mean. One such case is the ubiquitous presence of antioxidant skin care on the market. We know that antioxidants are a good thing, whether they’re in our food or being applied directly to your faces, but how do they really work, and why do we need them?

The first clue is in the name. Antioxidants fight oxidation, a chemical reaction that produces free radicals that can damage or even kill cells, including those that make up your skin. Think of when a peeled apple or sliced avocado turns brown—that’s oxidation. Not only do antioxidants prevent the oxidation process in the first place, but they can repair damage retrospectively, too.

Young, healthy skin contains plenty of antioxidants, but aging naturally results in the loss of those nutrients, and without antioxidants to slow them down, you’re more susceptible to all kinds of aging processes. Sun, air pollution, environmental stressors—all of these variables and more can wreak havoc on skin that isn’t sufficiently protected by antioxidants.

Eating plenty of foods rich in antioxidants has been proven to help the body fight countless illnesses and diseases, and it can only be beneficial for your skin, too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should skip skin care that contains antioxidants. Applied topically, they work straight away to better defend your skin against the environmental damage we’re exposed to every day. Antioxidants help prevent the breakdown of collagen, which keeps skin younger-looking for longer; they combat the free radical damage that results in signs of aging; and they even enhance the efficacy of sunscreen. Needless to say, antioxidants are not a hard sell for those who want to preserve healthy skin.

Any and all skin types, not just those saddled with signs of aging, can benefit from the enhanced protection offered by antioxidant ingredients in skin care. There are countless antioxidants out there—vitamins C and E, retinol, resveratrol (grape-derived resveratrol is the key ingredient in Caudalie products, which are among our favorites for anti-aging), flavonoids like those in green tea, and polyphenols come to mind—and the more of them you use, the better. They work well in conjunction with one another, so when it comes to antioxidants, you can’t have too much of a good thing. Now if only we could find a way to work the same magic on that ill-fated leftover half of an avocado.

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